Thursday, July 16, 2015

Women: Emotional and Nostalgic

An open letter in response to a blog post by Dr. Brian C. Mitchell, Director of the Edvance Foundation and a contributor to HuffPost.

Perhaps apathy is a wave of emotions too afraid to 
burst out of the darkness into the bright light of day 
~Terri Guillemets

Dr. Mitchell,

Over the past four months, "experts" in higher education have come out of the woodwork to lament the closing of Sweet Briar College.  "Oh no!" they cry.  "Single-sex, liberal arts colleges 20 minutes away from Starbucks are doomed!"

In nearly every news article, blog post, op-ed, and radio show, the media accepts the former interim president's talking points without question: too few women want to attend women's colleges; those who enroll require large discounts; and the wealthy families of yore who financed the college for decades are few and far between.

Like you, most of these journalists like to point out that the alumnae are emotional over the loss of the college, and that nostalgia is no match for good business sense.

You state that we must answer the "why" of saving Sweet Briar: "If the answer is a largely emotional one driven by the love and passion that alumnae feel for their institution, it is likely that their solution will be inconclusive at first and ineffective in the end."

With all due respect, sir, would you say the same thing to 10,000 men?

Beginning the evening of March 3rd, thousands of alumnae and friends took to the virtual streets when presented with...well, a lack of data to support the closure.

"It's time to get to work."

What, exactly, do you believe the #SaveSweetBriar movement was doing?  From legal proceedings to social media activism; from admissions and marketing plans to building renovation; from food services to environmental research; from $0 pledged and donated to $27.5 million in under four months; from showing students and staff that alumnae were there for them, even when the college's administration wasn't, to participating in Virginia politics.  Et cetera, et cetera, and so forth.  (RIP Yul Brener)

"Sweet Briar must survive for good reasons."

One of my favorite Washington Post trolls recently suggested that someone perform a study to find out if women's colleges were still relevant.  He made this suggestion after dozens of women shared their stories about the education they received at Sweet Briar.  Dozens of reasons, and he discounted them all.  Thousands of "good reasons" to educate young women, yet you ignore them all?

"The history of Sweet Briar demonstrates that the older strategy of incremental management simply did not work. It's time to strike out and try something new, imaginative, and rooted in the history and tradition of the College."

Since you are writing about Sweet Briar, I expect that you have done your research on the school, the people, and the #SaveSweetBriar events.  If so, you would know that we've been saying the exact same thing all along. 


Let's move on to your strategic steps, shall we?

1. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
coughsayingthesamethingforfourmonthscough  NO more consultants.  They've done enough damage to Sweet Briar already.  Thanks for ignoring the "good minds" of the thousands of individuals involved to date.  If only we weren't so emotional and nostalgic, amIright?

2. Start with an environmental scan. The metrics that demonstrate the problem and indicate its severity are readily available.

3. Respect the traditions, including its liberal arts heritage as a college for women, whatever the final decisions.
Man, I wish one of those wistful women would have thought of that.

4. If there is a future for the College, it will be in part because committed alumnae step forward to make it so. Once the management decisions are made, it will be equally important for the alumnae to step back.
No.  No no no no no no no no no.  The last time alumnae stepped back, the Board tried to kill Sweet Briar.  Alumnae will stay involved, thankyouverymuch.

5. Sweet Briar is a tuition dependent institution
What was that?  Sorry, I couldn't see through the haze of tears.  Woe is me.

6. Transparency in communication is critical
Tell that to Mark Herring.


"A pivotal case study whose outcome will have important implications for American colleges and universities."

You're good for my ego.</blush>  Oh!  You meant the college.

"In 'saving' Sweet Briar"

Whoa!  What's with the quotes?  We DID save Sweet Briar.

"Let's hope for a negotiated, innovative and progressive outcome that does not further undermine some of the bedrock principles and rich traditions upon which American higher education is built."

Right.  Blame the women's college for the fall of higher education.  Move over, Helen of Troy, it's our turn to destroy civilization.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

You Missed This! Additional Information for the Campbell Law Observer

The news of Sweet Briar College's closure resurrection has reached audiences worldwide.  Unfortunately, the untruths spouted by the previous President and Board of Directors have stuck in the public's collective brain (so many jokes, so little time); #SweetBriar supporters continue to correct misinformation.

Paige Miles Feldman, Managing Editor of the Campbell Law School Observer, wrote about the current state of Sweet Briar, but left out a lot of information.  Four months ago, I would have glanced at the article, noticed the legal mumbo jumbo legalese, and turned tail.  My family has one lawyer; I'm not it.  How my world has changed since the afternoon of March 3, 2015!  As it turns out, I like the law and all of its gobbledegook concepts (you're going down in our next argument, baby brother).

Ms. Feldman, allow me to clarify some of the misconceptions in your article.
  1. Sweet Briar Women’s College in Virginia

  2. SBC "will live to see another year" and "the money will only keep the school open for so long"
    We will, in fact, be open for the next 114 years.  And beyond.

  3. Bowyer "claimed that Sweet Briar was a trust, and therefore would require court action to close.  Sweet Briar disagreed, stating that because it did not have stockholders, it did not need the permission of the court to close."
    We lovingly call the Amherst suit Lawsuit #1.  The lawyers for the former president and Board argued that Sweet Briar was a non-stock non-profit corporation--not a trust--and therefore were subject only to the Business Judgement Rule, not the Virginia Uniform Trust Code.  Trusts do not have stockholders.

  4. "Initially, the injunction was denied in circuit court on the grounds that the court lacked the ability to stop the school from closing."
    The requested injunction (based on Virginia Code § 57-59) had nothing to do with whether or not the court was able to stop the closure.  Circuit Court Judge James Updike ruled that Sweet Briar was a non-stock corporation, not a trust, which is why the injunction was denied under this statute.

  5. "The Virginia Supreme Court did not agree with the decision, and ordered the court to reconsider it."
    The way this is written, I understood you to mean that the Supreme Court of Virginia did not agree that "the court lacked the ability to stop the school from closing."  That's misleading.  

  6. "As a part of this order, the higher court said that being a trust and a non-stock corporation were not mutually exclusive in this case, and Sweet Briar could exist as both."
    The ruling does not apply just to Sweet Briar; "in this case" should be removed.

    In addition, the court did not rule that Sweet Briar could exist as both a corporation and a trust, merely that a corporation could also be a trust.  The ruling said nothing about Sweet Briar herself, which is why the case was remanded back to Circuit Court. (yes! more chances to make swoony eyes at Judge Updike.)

  7. "While Bowyer sought the injunction, she also contacted Sweet Briar’s vice-president for finance and administration and asked him to ensure that employees maintain any documents regarding Sweet Briar."
    Commonwealth's Attorney Ellen Bowyer sent a cease-and-desist letter to Scott Shank because his office held midnight shredding parties to destroy school records.  

  8. "Additionally, she requested an injunction to forbid the school from using any donated money to shut down the school.  The court allowed this action."
    This is what's known as burying the lede.  This sentence should be moved up one paragraph to follow #4 above.

    "This action" was the first of many legal battles won, providing a 60-day injunction against the College from using previously-solicited funds for closure based on Virginia Code § 57-57.  It did not enjoin the College from soliciting donations for the purpose of winding-down operations (if I never see "winding-down" again, it will be too soon).

  9. "After the Amherst County Attorney filed suit, the faculty of Sweet Briar chose to also file an injunction in mid-April."
    Technically, this is Lawsuit #3.  Lawsuit #2 is the student/parent/alumnae suit, which I discuss in point #13 below.  

  10. "They claimed that the shutdown would be a breach of contract, but the school replied with a clause from the faculty manual:  that faculty can only be fired 'under extraordinary circumstances because of financial exigencies.'  Naturally, the faculty disagreed with this reasoning, arguing that the school was in fact not in danger of financial crisis."
    The faculty presented the manual, not the College.  As noted in the Faculty and Staff Complaint on page 12:

  11. "Ultimately, the decision by the Virginia Supreme Court ruled, and Sweet Briar could stay open."
    The court's ruling worked in #SaveSweetBriar's favor, but it was not an automatic victory.  All parties spent five weeks in mediation under the guise guidance of the office of Virginia Commonwealth's Attorney General Mark Herring. (Herring only called for mediation after we stalked harassed spoke with him at multiple political fundraisers)

  12. "The $24 million is nothing more than a temporary solution"
    It's $28 million.

  13. "Students were rightfully upset, but did not sue to attempt to stop the closure, and might not have standing to do so if this happens again."
    Lawsuit #2, filed by Elliott Schuchardt on behalf of students, parents, and alumnae, netted a bigger gain than the initial injunction from Lawsuit #1: a six-month stay on selling or disposing of any of the College's assets.

    Honestly, 95% of us believed that the case would flounder (sorry, Elliott!); imagine our surprise when we won!  Elliott has major cojones. (don't worry, Catherine! it's just an expression!)

  14. "If Sweet Briar students had attempted to bring suit on a contract claim, they would likely have also failed.  Furthermore, the only way Sweet Briar students could possibly win on a contract claim in the future is if Sweet Briar closed in the middle of a semester, thus requiring the school to refund any tuition to the students."
    Delete delete delete.

  15. "[T]he faculty could again sue over the financial exigencies clause, or any other contract breach that could be in question."
    Truuuuuue.  But 10,000 people spent four months saving Sweet Briar.  Do you really think that we're going to let the College fail?

    If we find that there are financial exigencies, we'll be able to prove them and reverse course.  If we fail and the College closes, at least we will have done everything in our power to save her.  Unlike the previous administration, we won't hide the financials at every turn.

  16. "Here, everything was dismissed by the court before final judgments were reached."
    An important point: the lawsuits were dismissed as part of the Settlement Agreement.

I love a good rebuttal, but I do expect better research from a third-year law student.

Friday, July 3, 2015

An Insider's View: You Say You Want A Revolution

I've been in the unique position to see first-hand how--via two organizations in two days--drastic changes in leadership can positively and negatively affect employees, faculty & students, members, volunteers, local businesses, and other stakeholders.

From this vantage point, I have witnessed four leadership precursors to success:

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Supplement to Sweet Briar's Alumnae FAQs

A special insert to the Sweet Briar News.

On June 9, 2015, Sweet Briar College updated its Alumnae Transition Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) webpage in response to questions overheard by staff and board members during reunion weekend. Some of these FAQs warrant further consideration.

Paul G. Rice: Parallels Between Work and Play(ing with Sweet Briar's Future)

Abrupt announcements.  Misleading stakeholders.  Endowment squandered.  Millions of dollars due to creditors.  Breach of fiduciary duty.

These are not the (Sweet Briar) stories you're looking for.

In fact, this isn't a Sweet Briar story at all.

(okay, it totally has to do with the events at SBC)